Drainage contractors report increase in demand

After more than a decade of poor prices and depressed incomes, an air of confidence is blowing through the industry. Riding on the back of higher commodity prices, farmers in almost every sector are in buoyant mood, positive about the future prosperity of the industry.

As farmers look to bolster the production capacity of land and maximise market returns, drainage contractors are reporting a flurry of enquiries from farmers.

Jim Wheeler and Chris Cook, joint partners in DW Clarke, a drainage contractor near Banbury, Oxfordshire, have received 14 farmer enquiries in the last 16 weeks.

“We haven’t had that level of interest in the past three years” said Mr Wheeler. “This is a welcome resurgence in demand for agricultural drainage.”

DW Clarke charges about £1000/acre, including aggregate, for drains laid at an average spacing of 20metres. However, Mr Wheeler reckons that in certain situations where distance between drains can be expanded and less backfill used, this cost can be reduced by almost half.

The firm recently undertook some in-crop drainage for the Northwick Estate at Blockley, Gloucestershire. The Denchworth-series clay with its fine loamy characteristics represented some of the best land on the estate, according to recently-appointed manager Edward Vipond. But un-drained it was prone to water-logging and simply was not producing to its capacity.

“We are only getting one tiller per plant. That’s an equivalent yield of 4t/ha from land that should support a second wheat averaging 8t/ha.” To Mr Vipond the drains represent a viable investment.

He acknowledges that it’ll probably take three growing seasons to get the best from the land, but with an increase in yield in the region of 100% and a long write off period for drains guaranteed for 25 years he can afford to make decisions for the longer term.

“It was a case of make the investment or find an alternative use for the land,” Mr Vipond said.

Installing drains mid-way through the growing season is far from ideal. Leaving the existing crop to mature results in an uncomfortable harvest for machinery operators, but where it is done early in the New Year, there is often sufficient time to sow a spring crop.

Where this is not possible, DW Clarke’s Chris Cook suggests ploughing the land and leaving it fallow in preparation for the next year.

Another contractor reporting a renewed interest in land drainage is Roger Longdin of Agripower, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

“We’ve had about nine enquiries over the past few months, some with small parcels of land to others with sizeable blocks. Interest in drainage over the last eight to 10 years has been dead,” he said. While he could not have anticipated the demand, he believed that once profit margins improved it would return.

“Farmers are proud businessman and are always keen to invest in their businesses. Higher prices have enabled many to do that. Already we’ve enough work to keep us busy for several months after harvest,” Mr Longdin said.